Sunday, October 16, 2016

Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour Review (XONE)

Celebrate 20-years of Duke Nukem 3D in style with the Duke Nukem 20th Anniversary Edition.  This new release packs all of the classic levels and gameplay of the original along with a new True 3D graphical mode and some brand new levels created by the original game designers.  Whether you’re a longtime Duke fan or just want to see what the fuss has been about (lets forget Duke Nukem Forever ever existed, shall we?), Duke Nukem 3D 20th Anniversary Edition is worth a look.  Get all of the details here in our full review.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Gearbox
  • Developer: 3D Realms, Gearbox, Nerve Software
  • ESRB Rating: “M” for Mature
  • Genre: First-Person-Shooter
  • Pros: Classic gameplay; oldschool level design; new levels are awesome; rewind feature
  • Cons: Not a big graphical overhaul; missing content from previous releases; Duke’s humor is outdated
  • MSRP: $20

I guess I should start by saying I’m not actually a huge Duke fan.  Duke Nukem 3D is a game on paper that I should have always loved, but that hasn’t been the case.  It was never as over the top or sexy or funny as my friends promised it would be back in the mid-to-late 90’s when we were in high school, and it only played “Ok”, so I didn’t see what the big deal was.  I came into this 20th Anniversary Edition of Duke 3D with moderate to low expectations.

Much to my surprise, I’ve actually quite enjoyed my time with this new release of Duke Nukem 3D more than I expected to and I think I may have figured out why Duke never impressed me much in the process – the graphics gave me motion sickness.  The original Duke Nukem 3D uses a sort of 2.5D engine where the textures warp and slide around the screen.  The 20th Anniversary Edition has a True 3D mode, which is still 2D and sprites and not real 3D models, mind you, that puts everything on one plane and actually connects it to the world, which eliminates the texture warping entirely, and doesn’t give me motion sickness anymore. 

You can switch between the old graphics and new True 3D mode at will by pressing down on the d-pad.  While the “new” graphics aren’t really much of an upgrade aside from offering better lighting, the fact the textures don’t warp makes a bigger difference than you’d think.  Now that I can play for longer than ten-minutes and not feel like I’m dying, it turns out that Duke Nukem 3D is a pretty fun game. 

The gameplay consists of oldschool point and shoot FPS where enemies are flat sprites, the shooting has heavy aim assist so your shots generally connect as long as you’re reasonably close, and the levels are gigantic mazes full of secrets and locked doors that require keycards.  The levels are a far cry from the linear levels of modern day shooters and are a nice blast from the past.  Unlike the original Doom where the levels were sort of arbitrarily designed, the levels in Duke Nukem 3D generally make realistic sense so you don’t wander around truly lost nearly as often as you did in Doom.  I like that.  Duke 3D also has a different gameplay pacing than other oldschool shooters.  The game is difficult and enemies do a ton of damage even on the lowest difficulty setting, so using the level geometry to shield you from incoming shots is a viable and often necessary tactic.  The variety of weapons – from a shotgun to machinegun to rocket launchers and more – makes the game a lot of fun as well because you always have lots of options.

This new 20th Anniversary release of Duke Nukem 3D packs the all of the original levels along with a brand new episode with new levels designed by the original developers.  These new levels are interesting because they still feel oldschool and like the old levels, but also have little modern design touches that bring them ever so slightly closer to being what present day gamers are used to and I really liked them a lot.  I also really love that all of the content is available from the start so you can play any level of any episode right away.  I also like the rewind feature that lets you rewind the gameplay when you die so you get another chance at tackling a tough section. 

Disappointingly, some of the expansion content that was present in the last Duke 3D re-release, the Megaton Edition, is not included here for various complicated legal reasons, which might make the $20 asking price a little hard to swallow for some.  The game does include a multiplayer deathmatch mode, and even has bots, but the multiplayer hasn’t aged as well as the single player and isn’t nearly as fun these days.  A developer commentary mode rounds out the features, though the commentary is typically front loaded at the start of levels and then not really present for the rest. 

One thing I feel like I should address is that Duke Nukem is rude and crude and misogynistic.  Duke says awful stuff, the game has strippers in it, and there are some other questionable things.  The funny thing, though, is that while all of this was really unprecedented and over the top and “M for Mature” in 1996, it’s actually pretty tame these days and not especially funny anymore (maybe I’m just old).  I’m not particularly offended by any of it, I just find it strange that we celebrate and laugh at Duke Nukem saying the same things that are going to cost a thin-skinned, tiny handed, hairpiece wearing, dangerous, racist, sexist, oompa loompa the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 

In the end, the Duke Nukem 3D 20th Anniversary Edition is a solid re-release for a beloved classic FPS.  The humor perhaps hasn’t held up particularly well, but the gameplay and classic level design has aged like fine wine and is still fantastic.  The visuals also hold up fairly well, particularly in the new True 3D mode that eliminates the texture warping so the game no longer makes me want to hurl.  I didn’t come into this game as a big Duke fan, but I can easily say I’ve had a lot more fun with this release of Duke Nukem 3D than any past release and I’ve really enjoyed myself this time around.  The $20 price tag is a little high, especially if you already have the Megaton Edition release of Duke 3D (that was never released on Xbox, though), but there is enough new content here that it’s probably worth it.  Buy it.   
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.